On their debut EP, Danish duo Cheap Shades introduce a fun, upbeat and driving combination of mod, surf and clean garage rock. While brief, the self-titled EP Cheap Shades uses its four songs to explore slight variations of the otherwise unified and coherent sound created within.
Heavily inspired by surf rock, the guitar takes a prominent role on Cheap Shades EP without dominating the album. The band is a self-recorded collaboration between Jesper Norén and Bo Zølner, two students who met in a sound engineering class, so the respect for balance is both evident and well executed.
The bright guitar driven riffs ring with articulately strummed chords and electrifying solos/lead parts, but always mesh with the driving, resonant bass and terse drumming due to the compressed vocals that appropriately drone, dropped in mix just below the guitar but often above the bass and drums. The resulting songs end up coming across as driving, unified statements of instrumentation rather than mere vehicles for lyrics, a root melody or cool guitar riff.
At four songs long, the album doesn't waste any time. Opening with a classic surf rock descending line, the first track “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” picks up with a Franz Ferdinand-like riff, accompanied by perfectly understated backing harmonies, before receding to the simple up-stroked verses and alternating between the two.
The second track “Alright” has the pacing of an end-of-a-live-set anthem with clean guitars, deep and rolling bass and happily haunting harmonized lead-vocals and melodies dancing just beneath the surface—akin to the likes of the Allah-las or early Dandy Warhols. The song also has a great breakdown and a more straightforward guitar solo that rips in like it's straight out of the ’60s. “Steel Frame” has the band going in a slightly more poppy, twee direction with a whistle track that, for better or worse, brings to mind that ear-worm by Peter, Bjorn and John and chorus that recalls Weezer at their most whimsical. The closer “Waiting For A Ride” sets a blistering, ’60s spy theme guitar riff over an urgent and throbbing bass line.
Cheap Shades EP has great pacing. While most of the songs are a pretty simple collection of half-a-dozen or so moving parts, broken down, rearranged and whatnot, these guys deserve a lot of credit for not overusing a riff. So many bands have a tendency to come up with something awesome and then just beat it into the ground by coming back to it again and again or playing a riff ad nausea. Cheap Shades hits on some really cool guitar parts, harmonies and the like, but use them just as much as needed so as to serve the song. That decision keeps the tracks and album as a whole moving forward, as well as leaves the listener wanting to hear it again for this part or that.
Ultimately, the Cheap Shades EP is a fun and quick little foray into a unique amalgamation of tried and true styles. Through deft ears and excellent self recording, Cheap Shades string up a series of guitar hooks along wonderfully restrained, driving harmonies and confidently urgent bass and percussion work.
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